There’s a certain degree of expertise needed to attempt the elusive platformer. Quick reflexes, precision timing, and the ability to adapt to change in milliseconds are all instincts that can aid in your success in the genre. Games like Outland or Super Meat Boy can devour hours of gameplay in a single level. Action Henk! similarly entangles you in the challenge for perfection with its speedy, and sometimes unforgiving gameplay.
Platform: PC via Steam [Reviewed], Mac
Release Date: May 11, 2015
I’ve watched Action Henk! grow from conception, into its development phase, and then to its final release. Well, sort of.
During E3 2014, there was a small gathering of indie developers. The rooftop soirée showcased games currently in development, and those looking to break into the scene. Action Henk! was among the crowded indie tables, but it was the only one to dig its hooks in me for more than a five-minute tinkering. I couldn’t tell if it was the speedy-platforming or my inner perfectionist that impulsively drove repeated attempts to skim seconds off of my best time. And that was only our first meeting.
The same desire for “the perfect run” mirrored my earlier years with the Tony Hawk’s: Pro Skater games. Hitting specific locations on the map and executing the right set of tricks might allow you to obtain that high-score you’ve been dreaming of. Messing up one manuever in the line of timed grinds and flip tricks meant starting the whole thing over. Things might have been different for you, but I couldn’t settle on those types of imperfections in the allotted 2-minute run.
The same can be said about Action Henk! Its similarities go so far as to have a level titled “Pro Skater” that involves skateboards placed as small obstacles. The obsession with “what could be” is present in almost every level, and presenting the opportunity to climb the global leaderboards with the score that only a perfect run can produce.
Hook, line and suction
Action Henk! masks its challenging gameplay with plastic action figures and mini-racecar tracks. Henk is a former action-star that now passes the days adding inches to his waistline. Reliving his glory days, he now wants to prove that he still has it–whatever it is. To showcase his acrobatic prowess, he now takes on each speedy course in the efforts to outrun the competition. The goal is fairly easy: beat the given times in each level to win a Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal. Gaining more medals will open new levels, and new sets of challenges. Unlockable characters come in the form of race challenges. Once beaten, those characters are now selectable.
Early tracks are built with common things that you might find in a child’s toy box, such as wooden blocks and toy planes. However, the level design slowly expands beyond that, becoming more imaginative as the game progresses. Laser lights become a distraction as they illuminate a darkened room, while other levels feature a fresh beach view. Levels become more intricate, offering a steady incline in difficulty and creating a continuous sense of mastery that must be achieved through precision jumps and flaming butt slides. Action Henk! keeps the gameplay fairly straight forward. It is highly recommended with any platformer to use a traditional controller. In fact, I find it hard to believe that people attempt a game like this without one. The left trigger is used for fiery butt-sliding action, while (A) can be tapped for shallow leaps and held down for longer tucks. The grappling suction gun is defaulted to (X) and provides Henk with a draping swing like something Tarzan would attempt.
The addition of the suction gun and the requirement for speed creates a new set of challenges. However, instead of creating a wall of obstruction, it accompanies the level design and other elements well. It also introduces a sense of discovery as the player needs to find new ways to complete a level. Simple things like manipulating Henk’s swing for speed or distance can mean the difference between a Bronze or Gold medal. As seen in the video below, there was a point where I thought all was lost and I was on a surefire pitfall to my death. Instead, the grapple was used to swing around the back end of the goal and voilà, level complete.
Is it the shoes?
With its emphasis on speed and precision, the game does have its quarrels with physics. There were a few instances where the logical progression in speed could have propelled Henk over hips and dips with ease. Instead, these runs were met with frustrating slow-downs and missteps. These instances are only magnified due the game’s emphasis on timing and speed. The isometric view of each level could have benefited from being further zoomed out or better toggled, leading to misguided falls into lava. Hot. Lava.
One of the most obvious improvements from the Early Access build is found under the hood in its optimization. There is a vast increase in performance as seen in such things as running the game at full settings with ease versus struggling with the same settings early on. This is extremely noticeable in faster, more graphically demanding areas like The Fever. And, it’s levels like these that make me feel as if the design was torn right out of the Sonic the Hedgehog playbook.
C’mon, level with me
If there is one noticeable thing about Action Henk!, it’s in the level design. Any speedster can place blocks together and vault them haphazardly. However, levels are designed in such a manner that they are methodical, having a certain flow to them. While certain instances did provide for mild frustrations, the overall experience was pleasing. A feat that you don’t see executed well from smaller development teams. Mastery of each location, and the game in general, will heighten your ability to gain additional speed. This speed opens up a variety of new routes to take, as the levels do not have one linear path. This delivers a sense of depth to a simple speed-running platformer. So, needless to say, there’s quite a lot of replay value.
Even from its Pre-Alpha build, Steam Early Access, and until now–I picked up Aciton Henk! more often than most games in my Steam library to see what was new.
The Bottome Line:
Action Henk! has an almost endless supply of replay value. The game continues to challenge with its updates in leaderboards and playing it will create a sense of unrest to beat your own personal best. The addition of online leaderboards invites others to compete just the same. There are also unlockable characters, new levels and more challenges within them to keep you scratching to reach the top.
The fun factor is also high, as its light-hearted core masks the challenges that lay within. The game oddly finds itself cut from the same cloth as the early Tony Hawk’s: Pro Skater titles, offering a sense of uneasiness when a high score isn’t reached or a perfect run succumbs to a sprint folly.
For now, if you’ve got Henk in your heart–let’em out. You won’t regret seeing his buns on the run when your name is on the top of the leaderboard.